Feeding the Future: Rethinking Food Security in a Climate-Altered Landscape

If little or no action is taken to address climate change and the vulnerability of the food system, the next 30 years could bring severe threats to food supply and food security.

“Amidst the changing tides of our climate, a simmering concern echoes louder than ever: how do we secure our nourishment in a world where the very essence of our sustenance is entwined with the unpredictable tapestry of climate patterns? Within this dynamic interplay, innovation becomes our guiding star, guiding the path toward a sustainable future where resilience and adaptability are the keys to nourishing a world in flux.”

If little or no action is taken to address climate change and the vulnerability of the food system, the next 30 years could bring severe threats to food supply and food security. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that different regions will experience varying impacts from climate change, and society and the environment will have different capacities to adapt or mitigate these changes. Climate change has negative effects such as higher global temperatures, shifts in precipitation patterns, more frequent droughts and heat waves, rising sea levels, melting sea ice, and an increased risk of intense natural disasters. Future projections indicate that global yields of maize and wheat will significantly decline due to the detrimental effects of climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions. The food system is also facing pressure from non-climate factors like population and income growth and the demand for animal-sourced products. Both climate and non-climate stressors are impacting the four pillars of food security, which include availability, access, utilization, and stability.

Climate change worsens the challenges of hunger and under nutrition through two primary pathways. Firstly, extreme weather events are more likely to occur under climate change, including more frequent and intense droughts, floods, and storms. These disasters can have a detrimental impact on people’s livelihoods and food security. They have the potential to destroy crops, critical infrastructure, and essential community assets, further weakening livelihoods and increasing poverty levels.

The long-term and gradual risks associated with climate change include the rising sea levels, which will have implications for the livelihoods of people in coastal areas and river deltas. Additionally, accelerated melting of glaciers will affect the quantity and reliability of available water resources. If warming trends continue, there could be a further acceleration in glacial melt, leading to an earlier start to the melt season.

Climate change poses a threat to food security and livelihoods by exacerbating existing challenges. This is driven by several factors including more frequent and intense climate hazards, declining agricultural productivity in vulnerable regions, increased health and sanitation risks, growing water scarcity, and heightened conflicts over limited resources. These factors may lead to new humanitarian crises and a rise in displacement. It is anticipated that climate change will impact all aspects that influence food security, including availability, access, stability, and utilization.

The World Food Summit in 1996 established a definition of food security that encompasses four dimensions. These dimensions include the availability of food, the accessibility of food both economically and physically, the utilization of food in terms of how it is used and assimilated by the human body, and the stability of these three dimensions. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) further defines food security as a situation where all people have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for a healthy and active life.

This definition emphasizes the importance of four key dimensions: availability, stability, access, and utilization. Availability refers to the ability of the agricultural system to meet the overall food demand. Stability focuses on individuals who may temporarily or permanently lose access to the resources needed for adequate food consumption. Access addresses the individuals’ ability to acquire appropriate foods through adequate resources and purchasing power. Lastly, utilization encompasses all aspects of food safety, quality, and nutrition, taking into account the health and sanitary conditions along the entire food chain.

Global and regional weather conditions are predicted to exhibit increased variability, resulting in more frequent and severe extreme events like cyclones, floods, hailstorms, and droughts. These fluctuations have negative implications for the stability of food supplies and, consequently, food security. The fluctuations can lead to variations in crop yields, local food availability, and increased risks of landslides and erosion damage. If climate fluctuations intensify and become more widespread, droughts and floods, which are the main contributors to short-term changes in food production, will become even more severe and frequent. Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, regions already grappling with high levels of chronic undernourishment, will be especially vulnerable to this heightened instability in food production due to their substantial land exposure.

Climate change will also impact the capacity of individuals to efficiently utilize food by altering conditions related to food safety and influencing the prevalence of vector, water, and food-borne diseases. The IPCC Working Group closely examines the potential spread or decline of different types of diseases, including vector-borne diseases like malaria, in relation to climate change.

Climate change and its impact on food security raise significant concerns due to the potential for a vicious cycle to occur. Changing climatic conditions can contribute to the spread or exacerbation of infectious diseases, which in turn can worsen hunger in affected populations. The increased vulnerability to infectious diseases in these populations can lead to a decline in labor productivity, an increase in poverty levels, and even mortality. This interconnected relationship between climate change, infectious diseases, and food security has the potential for far-reaching consequences on both the well-being and livelihoods of individuals and communities.

Climate change will have a pervasive influence on all aspects of food security, including food availability, access, stability, and utilization. However, the significance of these dimensions and the overall impact of climate change on food security will vary across regions and over time. It is crucial to recognize that the socio-economic status of a country will greatly influence how they are affected by climate change. In particular, developing countries will experience heightened dependence on food imports, thus amplifying existing food insecurity issues in regions like sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Within the developing world, it is the marginalized and impoverished who will bear the greatest burden of the adverse impacts caused by climate change on food security.

In conclusion, the complex relationship between climate change and food security highlights the urgent need for coordinated action. As climate change intensifies, it poses substantial risks to the availability, access, stability, and utilization of food. The impact of these risks will vary across regions and socio-economic contexts, with developing countries and vulnerable populations bearing the brunt. To address this multifaceted challenge, comprehensive strategies are required, including mitigation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adaptive measures to enhance resilience in the agricultural and food systems. Fortunately, by implementing sustainable practices, investing in research and technology, and promoting equitable and inclusive policies, we can work towards a future where food security for all is achieved, even in the face of a changing climate.

Rameen Siddiqui
Rameen Siddiqui
A thought leader and youth activist with main focus areas being Sustainable Development, Political Economy, Development Justice and Advocacy. A member of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY). Also a Youth Member of United Nations Association of Pakistan (UNAP).